/// How to use content strategy for better journalism, not just publishing
Content strategy is often talked about in terms of increasing a site’s metrics: the amount of traffic it gets, or time spent by users, or engagement (here’s a previous post about it).
But there’s another type of content strategy, one that improves a journalist’s reporting. It’s a strategy that increases the numbers of contacts that you have, or their diversity. It’s a strategy that improves your reputation with those contacts, or increases the chance that one will approach you with new information.
In this post I want to explore some typical examples of that type of content strategy. Often these have benefits for the site as a whole, too.
What is your strategy for?
Of course you don’t start with the strategy: you start with the people and objectives it is intended to serve (see my post on the POST process – for more about this approach).
I listed some objectives at the top of the post. Here they are again as a list:
Increase the numbers of contacts
Broadens the range of contacts
Improve reputation with contacts
Increases the chance that a contact will provide new information
Enter your content strategy.
How to make it easier for contacts to find you
What problems do your contacts have? What information do they need? What issues unite or divide them? The answers to these questions should give you ideas for content that will help you make those contacts – but more importantly, help those contacts find you.
Along the way you’ll be creating content which should be valuable in its own right. In fact, it should be useful by design.
Here are some ideas:
Solving problems – are potential sources facing change (for example, the bedroom tax, or introduction of academies)? How about a post which answers some frequently asked questions, or outlines their legal position? How about a pocket-sized ‘bust card’ that they can use (and might recommend to others)? How about exploring community forums, mailing lists, groups and hashtags, and contributing your answers there? This also gives you an excuse to interview experts in the field, making more contacts as you go and building your own knowledge.
Bring the community into your site – inviting someone to do a guest post, or writing a roundup of the most useful/interesting contributions from a forum or mailing list, are good ways for people to get to know about your site without you shouting at them about it. It helps, of course, if you have already contributed to their community in some way – see above. Other approaches including interviewing or profiling a key community member or the group itself.
Write about events – or organise them – events in a community are not only a great way to meet people in that field: reporting on them is also a good way to be found. People who have attended the event – but also people who could not – will often search for coverage afterwards to see what was written. It also gives you an excuse to approach speakers and others to clarify points they might have made. If events don’t exist, try organising one. Even if only a few people turn up the first time, it’ll be there online for others to find in future, and you’ll have shown that you tried.
Write ‘open’ posts – if you want people to add comments, make sure there’s an opportunity for them to do so. I don’t mean technically, but in the way that you write: a closed article that pretends to wrap everything up neatly provides little opportunity for addition or disagreement. Be open about what you didn’t understand, couldn’t find out, or are curious about.
Open up your research – on these lines, try making public lists of the best places to find information about X, or the best people to follow on Y. Sometimes people will suggest things or people you’ve missed.
Beyond these core ideas, you might want to think about the specific strategy: broadening contacts might mean publishing content addressing different communities. Likewise, if you want to build your reputation with contacts – for example you need to establish trust – then that will prioritise different content than merely finding new contacts. It might be worth establishing what the barriers are to building that trust: perhaps journalists covering this field have so far not tested the claims of those in power? Or, conversely, merely reported complaints without finding out the truth behind them. Identifying these barriers is also likely to lead you to under-reported areas.
These are just some ideas – you may have others…
Why make it easier for contacts to find you
Finally, some justification: if you’re investigating or reporting on a particular field, you need contacts first and foremost. Knowledge of the field will be needed, and documents are useful too, but access to both are improved with good contacts.
Contacts are often harder to make, too. Yes, you can open the phone directory and make a list of relevant bodies. But that’s not a contact – that’s a phone number. A contact is ideally someone you have a relationship with; someone who is willing to help in some way, for some reason (it may be a selfish one, or altruistic, malicious, or simply social).
These days contacts come from a range of sources – not just formal organisations. They come to you through search and through social media. They find you when they didn’t even know they were looking for you.
Distribution used to be something journalists complained about but couldn’t do anything about. Now, just as you might pop into the pub or make a call to the local vicar, you can make your content work for you – send it to places other journalists can’t reach.
Without it, well, you’re just a journalist with a phone book.
Online Journalism Blog – Paul Bradshaw